HIGHLAND | It’s not very often you see teams licking their chops seeing Griffith on the schedule, but you could say Highland was looking for more than a four-course meal Friday night.
Sixteen years of frustration makes a program hungry. Or the fact the Trojans hadn’t scored a point in conference play this season.
Behind a dominating running game – one that was Griffith’s bread and butter for decades – the Trojans rolled up 465 yards on the ground in outlasting the Panthers 40-36 in Northwest Crossroads action.
“This is huge. Just huge. Our kids fought and kept playing,” Highland coach Trent Grider said. “I’m so proud of these kids. Adversity hit and they said, ‘Let’s win this one.’”
Talk about a long time coming. Highland had lost 15 of the last 16 meetings against Griffith, including 15 straight. Take away last year’s 20-18 victory in the sectional and the Trojans hadn’t beaten the Panthers (1-6, 0-5) since 1999, and hadn’t won two straight in the series since 1998 and 1999. It was also Highland’s second-ever victory in NWC play, the other being a win over Kankakee Valley in 2011.
“We heard so much last year that it was a fluke. We knew what we had to do,” said an emotional Highland senior Matt Holl. “It’s hard to describe what this means. I read the paper all the time and we’re always picked to lose. This means so much for this program.”
Holl, who was nursing a sore knee and didn’t start, emerged late in the first quarter and made his presence known. The senior had five carries for 127 yards and a touchdown in the first half, while the Trojans (4-3, 1-3) had 230 yards on the ground by the break.
The Trojans led 19-6 at one point and trailed 36-25 with 4:13 left in the third quarter before rallying back with a running game Griffith couldn’t contain. Despite seven fumbles (four lost), Highland got 100 yards and three TDs from Ian Hardy and 129 yards and a TD from Sean McQuillan.
Grider had to be looked at by a doctor at halftime for low blood sugar. He came back on the field and made sure to let the entire Highland cheering section come on the field to celebrate afterward.
“I don’t have much left in the tank (tonight), but I’m enjoying this one,” Grider said.
The last time Highland had this much success against Griffith was six consecutive wins from 1982-87. The Panthers lost standout running back Justin Green to an ankle injury, and he missed almost the entire second half.